It was 35 years ago this week that Wayne Gretzky scored his 92nd goal of the season, setting a record that’s unlikely to ever fall. He does hold some marks that could be broken in the next few seasons, however.
Earlier this week, Alex Ovechkin joined Wayne Gretzky and Mike Gartner as players to notch at least 30 goals in each of their first 12 seasons. That Ovechkin has tied one of the Great One’s goal-scoring records isn’t altogether surprising. After all, while Gretzky is the greatest offensive talent of all-time, Ovechkin is arguably the greatest pure goal scorer the league has ever seen.
However, Ovechkin matching a Gretzky mark led to a different conversation, one about the all-time goals mark. At one time, the Ovechkin was considered a potential threat for the all-time goals record, which Gretzky holds with 894 tallies, but a few down seasons paired with a lockout year-shortened season has put Ovechkin’s chase for the goal-scoring crown in peril. That we’re even talking about a modern-day scorer even reaching Gretzky’s level is incredible, though.
The goal-scoring climate — and overall style of play across the league — has changed so greatly since Gretzky’s heyday. Consider that 35 years ago this week, Gretzky set the single-season record with 92 goals in a single season. Nowadays, were a player to score 92 goals, we wouldn’t even be bothering to have a conversation about any end-of-year awards. Hand them all to the goal-scoring king, and call it a day. It’s one of those records that’s incredibly unlikely to fall, as is his all-time goal-scoring record seems safe as Ovechkin’s career continues on.
Just because two of Gretzky’s more famous records are safe, though, doesn’t mean he’s going to remain in sole possession of several of his other marks. Here are five Gretzky records that we could realistically see fall in the next several seasons:
Most assists, one playoff period: Three
Not one of the records on this list are ones that Gretzky holds by himself, but none are shared with as many people as the single-period playoff assist mark. On 70 different occasions, a player has registered three assists, and Gretzky himself managed the feat five times. But the thing about the single-period assist mark is that all it takes is a bounce or two for the mark to fall. It’s been close, too.
During the 2014 post-season, Patrick Kane took over the first period of Game 5 with three assists in the first 11 minutes of play. However, he was unable to connect for another assist to take the record from Gretzky and the others who share it. If Kane and others have come within a single helper of reaching the mark, though, it’s only a matter of time until someone breaks through.
Most points, one playoff period: Four
Gretzky and the Oilers entered the 1986-87 post-season looking to get back on track after having their shot at three consecutive titles derailed in the second round the year prior. They lost the first game of the opening-round series against the Los Angeles Kings before storming back to win the next four outings, and Gretzky’s Game 4 performance was a record-setting one. In Edmonton’s 6-3 win, Gretzky netted a goal and three assists in the third, his four points tying the record for most points in a single playoff period.
The thing about this record is that all it takes is timing. Over the past five seasons, 26 different players have registered at least four points in a single playoff game, and Derick Brassard and Claude Giroux have had five- and six-point games, respectively. Then with the Rangers, three of Brassard’s points came in the third period in a May 2015 game against the Lightning. Giroux also had a three-point third in April 2012 against the Penguins.
All it takes is one player to get unexpectedly hot over a short period of time for the record to fall, though.
Most goals, one period: Four
Like the points in a post-season period mark, this is a record Gretzky shares. The Great One is one of 12 players to score four goals in a single period, and he accomplished the feat way back on Feb. 18, 1981. Others have reached the mark since, and it hasn’t even been that long since a modern scorer accomplished the feat. In fact, it was little more than two months ago — Jan. 23, 2017 — that Patrick Marleau had a four-goal third period to lead the Sharks to victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
As is the case with the points-in-a-period mark, all it takes is one unexpected flurry of goals for a player to break Gretzky’s record. It’s rare, but not incredibly so, to see the single period natural hat trick and even more rare to see the four goals by a single player in one frame. That doesn’t mean we won’t see it with a little luck, though.
Most goals, All-Star Game: Four
Some might consider this a trivial record, but it’s listed among Gretzky’s feats by the league, so it’s worth counting for our purposes. It’s also worth noting because the record has stood for nearly 35 years without anyone snapping it. A few have come close — four players share the mark, all notching four goals after Gretzky — but the most recent was Dany Heatley in 2003.
The thing about this record, though, is that the climate may be just right for someone to overtake Gretzky. The 3-on-3 format is all about offense and if one player decides to go all out, there’s no reason he can’t manage five goals in a single game. The only thing working against whoever’s chasing down Gretzky is that the tournament format comes with shorter games, but it also comes with shorter benches. Trade one for the other, and maybe five goals is in the cards sometime soon. (Just imagine the reaction had John Scott managed to net five…)
Most 50-goal seasons: Nine
Gretzky’s primary source of points across his career were his gaudy assist totals — he had 100-plus 11 times — but the first eight seasons of his career were all 50-plus-goal campaigns. As noted, that included a 92-goal season and there were three other 70-plus goal seasons, but Gretzky capped off his 50-goal seasons by the 1988-89 campaign. He only eclipsed the 40-goal plateau twice in the seasons that followed. The nine 50-goal years were enough for the most in history, however, and it’s a mark he shares with Mike Bossy.
That said, if there’s one goal-scoring record Ovechkin stands to take from Gretzky, it seems this could be the one. Four of Ovechkin’s first five seasons were 50-goal campaigns and there was reason to believe that by the time Ovechkin’s time in the NHL was through he would have sole possession of the record for most 50-goal seasons in a career. Then came the down years. He failed to hit the mark in 2009-10 and 2010-11, which was then followed by a lockout-shortened season. But Ovechkin got back on track in 2013-14, posting three-straight 50-goal seasons.
Sure, Ovechkin might be past his goal-scoring prime, but he’s had a down year and is still on pace for 35-plus goals. He’s a constant threat and he still has more years where he’s going to be in the hunt for 50 goals. If he can hit 50 three more times, he’ll have the record for most 50-goal campaigns.
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